There’s a raging debate going on in my church: Pass the offering plate or not? Actually, there’s nothing raging about it. Any time there’s disagreement in the church, it has the capacity to go from “loving conversation” to “raging debate” in about ten minutes.
Whew. We’re still at the loving conversation stage. One minute down, nine to go.
I need your help before things get ugly. Is the offering plate past its prime? I’m lucky enough to attend a church with two distinct services. One traditional, the other contemporary.
The contemporary service does not pass the plate.
After reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, I was all set to push for the offering plate, post-Covid, to make its reemergence at the contemporary service.
I particularly was struck by what Clear said about “cues” –
Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out. Unfortunately, the environments where we live and work often make it easy not to do certain actions because there is no obvious cue to trigger the behavior.
In this context, passing the offering plate during worship is the cue people need to remember to give.
I made my case and it was met by an earnest, “Yeah, I still don’t like passing the plate.”
An Oh-So-Brief History of the Offering Plate:
My teeny tiny research dive indicates that the offering plate is a relatively new concept in American Christianity. Up until 1833, our government made sure churches were on firm financial ground. When it decided that there should be a clear separation of church and state, to make up for the loss of money, churches got creative.
They auctioned off or sold rights to certain pews (imagine if Ticketmaster got ahold of that today). Other churches had a “subscription” book listing the church’s budget – and asked members to write what they were going to contribute. Some also requested a “free will offering” but generally did that only once or twice a year.
Then (gasp!) preachers started looking to the Bible as a source. Post-Civil War, the concept of tithing and that everything – including your money – belonged to God, caught on. By 1900, most churches took up a weekly offering, just like many still do today.
Post-Covid: The Covid lockdown gave churches gave churches the opportunity to do things differently. Our contemporary service set up a “gift box” in the back of the church - complete with bow - hoping to bypass spreading contagious Covid germs. But now that we are in the PC-times (post-Covid) and even though we talk about the offering during worship, the 123-year-old habit of passing of the plate has not returned to our contemporary worship space.
Thus, my not very convincing plea to resume it was met with “Yeah, I still don’t like passing the plate.”
To that, I determined that I better have my thoughts in order. Here are my “pros” and “cons” lists.
Passing the Plate: Pros
- It happens during worship and ties giving to being part of a spiritual experience and discipline
- The visual cue of the plate reminds people to give – even if they do so electronically
- It’s a shared, communal experience
Passing the Plate: Cons
- Very few people carry cash or checks
- It’s depressing to see an empty or almost empty offering plate pass by
- It’s hard to get volunteer ushers…let alone train them in how to pass the plate (it’s confusing!)
- Offering plates are an opportunity for germs to spread their ugly little unseen tentacles
That’s my list.
This is where I need your help.
- What do you think? Is the offering plate relevant?
- Are you still passing the plate?
- If you’re not, have you noticed a dip in giving?
- What “pros” and “cons” do you see in passing/not passing the plate?
- If you don’t pass the plate, how do you keep the focus of giving on being part of a spiritually healthy life?
Feel free to answer any or all of the questions. Shoot me an email or, if you’d like, send me your number and we can chat by phone.
I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say.
The “loving conversation” clock is ticking…